By Simon ManchesterSunday 12 Oct 2014Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 0 minutes
St Thomas’ Anglican Church
12 Week Series
God’s Wide Plan – Can You Cope With This?
Based on the Book of Luke
Our heavenly father we pray that you would open our hearts to your word and we pray you would open your word to our hearts. In Jesus’ Name. Amen
Well good morning everybody. We’re following Luke’s Gospel on these Sunday mornings. We come today to chapter 4 and an amazing event where the people of Jesus’ home town praised him in church and then attacked him in church; the same church service. Its chapter 4 verses 14-30.
Jesus is preaching to a group of people who love the idea that he would make them happy but they are angry at the idea that he would make them humble. So they have an agenda for him which is that he would cooperate,that he would cooperate with them. And he has an agenda for them,which is that they would cooperate with God.
We know that the unbeliever,the non Christian has again and again an agenda for God. Either that he would be non-existent,or that he would come on cue when things are really difficult. And yet that’s the human heart and that’s even the Christian heart and I know in my own heart that it’s very easy to think that I know exactly what God should do. And if he does the one thing that I think he should do,all will be well. But I don’t know what he knows,I don’t know any fraction of what he knows and I discover that when I adjust to his agenda not only is it the best thing for me and the best thing for everyone,but all my talk of trusting him suddenly becomes real and not just talk.
So Spurgeon says yesterday in his little book of readings,Morning and Evening,there are hours of perplexity when the most willing servant,anxiously desirous to serve the Lord knows not what path to take and he says,so call upon God and spread the case before him,tell him your difficulty and plead his promise of aid. Express your un-staggering confidence in him for unfaithful,untrusting waiting is but an insult to the Lord. Believe that even if he keeps you till midnight yet he will come at the perfect time.
And in our section of scripture this morning I hope that you will go away seeing that the Lord Jesus stayed with the agenda which the Father had set him,although it was not the agenda which the world wanted for him. And by staying with the agenda that the Father had sent him to do he actually blessed the world immeasurably more.
Last week we saw the Devil had an agenda for Jesus and he resisted it. This week we see that the synagogue has an agenda for Jesus and he resisted it. We’re going to look at the section under two headings this morning – The Saviour’s Programme’,verses 14-21; and ‘The Crowd’s Response’,verses 22-30.
The Saviour’s Programme – Verse 14. Jesus returned to Galilee,this is after the temptation,in the power of the spirit and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues and everyone praised him. He went to Nazareth where he had been brought up and on the Sabbath he went into the synagogue as was his custom.
You remember that Jesus had the Holy Spirit descent on him uniquely at his baptism and begin to direct his life. And he never wavered from being a spirit led person. And the first thing the spirit did was lead him into the wilderness and into temptation with the devil. And now he’s led by the spirit in the synagogue and he begins to teach under the influence of the spirit which is exactly what you’d expect the spirit to want him to do. And the people in the synagogue praise him. Then he goes to Nazareth and the people attack him.
After he had read,Verse 18 – the Spirit of the Lord is on me because he’s anointed me to preach good news to the poor,he sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners,recovery of sight for the blind,to release the oppressed,to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,after he’d read that he handed the scroll back and he said to them; (and this must have been a most wonderful moment,or it should’ve been anyway) – today this is fulfilled. And they immediately become patronising and resistant and he has to deal with them.
Now we don’t have time this morning to dwell on Jesus’ worship patterns,the fact that he went to the synagogue on a regular basis. I’d love to,of course go on a detour with that but I will resist just to say that it’s nice to see you here this morning! And you’ll see that Jesus finds Isaiah 61,Isaiah was written in the 8th Century BC,Isaiah set out the agenda for the Messiah,when he was to come; Jesus picks up Isaiah’s agenda and says – I’m not inventing something for myself,this is exactly what has been set out for the Messiah to do and I’m going to do it because I am the Messiah. He is,you see,anointed by the Spirit of the Lord God and he makes it absolutely clear he is the Christ. He is the Messiah today. Everything you’ve been looking forward to has pointed to me – says Jesus.
You’ll notice that his job is primarily to preach and proclaim – the Spirit of the Lord is on me because he’s anointed me to preach good news to the poor,that’s how people who are poor will be made rich,through the message. That’s how people who are captive will be set free,through the message. That’s how people who are blind will be set free,through the message. That’s how people who are oppressed will be set free,through the message. He is a preacher. It’s very hard to work out the message of most world religions today. I mean,can you put your hand up and tell me,not that I want you to do this,what the message of Islam is? Just give it to me in a sentence. Can you give me the message of Buddhism in a sentence? But Christianity is beautifully simple,Christ died for you. Jesus is Lord. God so loved the world that he gave his only son. It’s a crystal clear message that a child can understand and a professor can explore for the whole of their life. And most other world religions,not having a simple message,compensate by having and by presenting to the world,some ‘holy’ man who is vested with great power or who performs amazing feats of deprivation or some long bout of ritual. But Christianity is a message. You don’t need a camera. You don’t need to go on a long pilgrimage. It comes to you. It comes to your ear. You need to just receive and live. And therefore Jesus’ message is a very wonderful message. The Jews have been looking forward to the Messiah for centuries and Jesus says – the time has come,the power of sin is about to be broken,the peace of God is about to enter your hearts,today the message has been fulfilled.
Now who is he talking to? We need to be very clear about this. Who is he talking to? Because according to Luke 4,as he speaks of his agenda,he has four categories of people. He has in mind poor,imprisoned,blind and oppressed. I don’t know anybody who thinks that Jesus literally walked around looking for those people. As if he would sift the crowds and say – I’m not talking to you I’m looking for a blind person,I’m not talking to you I’m looking for a poor person. As far as we know Jesus gave out no money to relieve the poor,he left John the Baptist in prison. He finished his three years with plenty of people still blind and he did not remove oppression from the world. The phrase ‘to be poor’ or ‘in prison’ or ‘oppressed’ is one spiritual condition. That’s what Jesus is doing. He’s come for a spiritual condition. Just as in Revelation Chapter 3 it says – you say I am rich and don’t need a thing,but you,says God,are wretched pitiful,poor,blind and naked. It’s a spiritual condition. We need to understand the spiritual condition so that we know that a person needs to go to Jesus for that spiritual condition to be met. And when they to go to Jesus who died for them He will transform them and give them a brand new life; which will overflow into all sorts of spiritual and physical life changes.
There’s no doubt if you read the word ‘poor’ in Luke’s Gospel it’s referring primarily to financial poverty. Again and again when the word poor is used in Luke’s Gospel it’s because somebody is financially poor. Give to the poor – says Jesus -This widow is poor. But when Jesus sets his agenda in Luke chapter 4,he’s not talking finances. He says the Gospel,the Good News,is not just for the financially poor,it’s for those who are spiritually poor. If it was for those who are just financially poor then when we get to the next chapter we would have to remove Levi,the tax collector,but Levi,the tax collector is included in the agenda of Jesus because he is spiritually poor. Or we’d have to remove the Centurion of chapter 7 who is undoubtedly a wealthy man. Or especially Zacheus,who is undoubtedly a wealthy man. No,Jesus has come for the spiritually poor. And he actually gives two illustrations in the synagogue,of people he’s come for,or God comes for. One is a widow,yes she is financially poor. The other is Naamon,the officer,high ranking officer,who is undoubtedly a wealthy man. So don’t make the mistake of thinking when you read ‘the poor’ that this is financial,this is economic,it’s a much bigger category. Jesus has come for the people who are cut off from the riches of God,people who are cut off from the riches of Christ,people who are spiritually,eternally,desperately,dreadfully poor. That’s who Jesus has come for,people who’ve got a poverty that’s much worse than financial. Financial may be included,but the real problem is to be spiritually impoverished.
I was having lunch last week with a friend who’s been studying Theology overseas. I wish he’d been studying at Moore College because he might have been clearer. But he’s been studying overseas and in the course of the lunch I said to him what are you planning to do with your career? He’s now in his fifties,he’s a lovely guy. He said,I’m thinking of working with the poor.’ I said,’So am I.’ He looked a little bit perplexed and I said to him,’I’m working with the poor here in North Sydney,I’m working with the poor in this restaurant’ and again he looked a little bit perplexed. And I said to him,’You see the people in North Sydney,the people in this restaurant,they’re poor. They’ve got two problems,One,they’re desperately poor. The second problem is,they don’t know it,they think they’re fine.’ Well he was a little bemused by our conversation. But I hope he will rethink because my hope for him is that he will work for the Gospel which will bring people to Jesus and they will discover spiritual riches which will transform their hearts and they will then begin to live in this world knowing that the greatest need anybody has in this world is that they be spiritually enriched by Christ and then they would begin to share everything with people,not just the Gospel but everything they have because their heart will be transformed.
Jesus you see is preaching spiritual riches,spiritual freedom,spiritual answers,spiritual strength. He wants people to have a new life,made possible because of his death and when people turn to him and when they receive him they receive a brand new life and it spills over into care,which is just beyond what could’ve possibly been envisioned humanly. That’s the Saviour’s program.
The second is the crowd’s response,Verses 22-30. Something happens in verse 22,it says-all spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from His lips,isn’t this Joseph’s son,they asked. Now we can’t work out what’s gone wrong in the synagogue except by looking at Jesus’ response to them. And they say,well we’re amazed and we thought that this was Joseph’s little boy. We know of course from Luke’s Chapters 1-3 that this is a wrong and hopeless conclusion to come to about Jesus. He’s much more than Joseph’s son. He’s just announced himself to be the Messiah. And to turn around and say,isn’t this Joseph’s son,is either extremely patronising,you know this is ‘our boy’,he’s doing well or they’re saying to him,’How can he claim to be the Christ,he’s just from down the road,he’s deluded,he’s making a big mistake about himself.’
Both of those conclusions fail to respond to him in faith. You see there’s no connection with him. They’re distant,they’re superior,they’re aloof,they’re lost.
And that’s why Jesus comes back in Verse 23 and he say’s – surely you’ll quote this proverb to me,’physician heal yourself.’ Now what does that proverb mean,’physician heal yourself?’ It means you have the problem,not us. Fix yourself,don’t come talking to us,Jesus,about being poor,blind,and captive. Before we take you seriously you’re going to have to do lots of miracles and prove that you really are worth listening to. Perform some miracles,the problem’s not ours,the problem’s yours. Your in the dock,you must stand up now and do something really impressive and then we may be persuaded – ‘Physician heal yourself.’
And instead of jumping to the agenda which they’ve set him,of doing some miracles which he could easily have done,he tells them two stories from their own Old Testament. And the two stories make them very angry. Verse 26 – Elijah the prophet was sent to no widows in Israel but to one outside the Promised Land. That makes them angry. Verse 27 – Elisha the prophet was used to heal no lepers in Israel,but one from Syria called Naamon. Bang! The synagogue erupts. We didn’t read the last two verses,but they grabbed Jesus and they take him out the doors and they take him out of the city and they take him up to the top of a hill as if to throw him over the hill and he effortlessly escapes. Why? On a simple reading it looks as though they’re upset because Jesus is saying God bypassed the Israelites and went to the Gentiles. However,I want you this morning to think hard because a more careful reading shows something which is even more disturbing and searching.
This argument of Jesus’ is bigger than synagogues; it’s much bigger than synagogues. This is what Jesus is saying. In the Elijah story and in the Elisha story there are two things that happen that are not happening here in the synagogue,says Jesus. Two things happened.
In 1 Kings 17,the widow has food for one more meal for herself and for her son. Elijah comes along and asks her to feed him first. Elijah turns up and says to the widow,I want you to feed me first and then yourself and your son. And she does. And the food never stops.
2 Kings 5,Naamon has unsolvable leprosy. Elisha comes and says,I want you to go to the Jordon River and I want you to wash seven times and Naamon is very angry at first and eventually he does and he washes seven times in the river and he is completely healed.
What’s taken place in those stories? First,both the widow and Naamon have taken the prophet at his word. They didn’t turn to the prophet and say,’We’ll do something when you’ve done a miracle.’ They took the prophet at his word. That’s not happening in the synagogue.
The second thing is that both the widow and Naamon received huge blessing from God because they know that they’re desperate. They don’t have time you see to ‘stand on their high horse’ and talk about an academic discussion or the performance of miracles. They know that they’re poor,captive,helpless and depressed. And that’s not happening in the synagogue. God spoke to the widow and God spoke to Naamon and they took the prophet at this word and knowing their need they responded and God’s favour fell on them.
You see why the synagogue got so angry? You might think it’s because Jesus is saying,’God went round Israel and went to the gentiles?’ Yes that’s upsetting. But is it possible he did this because the widow and gentile,Naamon,had something that you don’t have here in the synagogue? And that is humble,receptive faith.
There are two people,says Jesus,in the Old Testament – yes they’re gentiles,but more importantly they took Elijah and Elisha at their word. None of this – do a miracle first business. The widow and Naamon took the good news in because they knew they were desperate. You in the synagogue,Jesus might have said,you are actually in a desperate situation. You are poor. You are imprisoned. You are blind and you are oppressed. You think you are in the driving seat,you think I am in the back seat. In actual fact,says Jesus,your condition is desperate and you don’t know and you won’t face it,so you won’t ask for help. And you won’t get help. And God will go looking for the person who does ask and is desperate.
You see why the crowd got angry? It wasn’t just,you see,that Jesus said – those gentiles got blessed. What Jesus was saying to them is – you Jews won’t get blessed. And the reason is not God,it’s you.
It is very difficult,isn’t it,to realise how desperately in need we are? We’re in a culture which is preaching at us all the time,self belief,self confidence,self congratulation. And it is difficult,isn’t it,to keep remembering that before God we are desperate for salvation and when we are saved we are desperate for his daily provision?
I read this past week that the author of ‘100 Things to do Before You Die’,you may have seen this,fell over in his California home at the age of 47 and died,before he was able to complete half the things he’d set for people to do. Ah,the irony of that! The irony! I have 100 things to do,let’s make it 1000,hey your eternal,your immortal and then,suddenly,he falls.
When we grasp ourselves to be poor spiritually and trapped in our sin and blind in the universe God has put us in and oppressed with trouble and when we call to the Lord,He saves us. And when we go on recognising just how frail and weak and desperately needy we are,even as his children,and we call to the Lord,the Holy Spirit-the comforter,works in us and works in us more powerfully than a thousand external helps. And the reason that this happens is because Jesus stayed with his agenda and his agenda is more wonderful and more powerful than any agenda than we could set for him.
Let me just close with an application of this,in the area of grief. There is a great amount of grief in our congregation,in different congregations there is some sadness and some fear,bereavements and anxiety from many people. And our family have had some waves of grief this week and we’ve had some waves of comfort. Would we not when we are grieving,gladly,gladly have a miracle? Wouldn’t we just love it if Jesus would change his agenda and just take us straight out of this? And we do want to,don’t we,humanly set him the task? Look this is it,just do this and all will be well. Don’t make me go through this,we say. And then he makes us go through it and what we go through is terrible. And in the grief of what we’re going through we are desperate,we’re desperate like we’ve never been desperate. And we cry to Him and He answers us in the perfect time. And when He answers us we have experienced two things. One,we’ve experienced trouble,without which we would never have clung to him like we did and we would never have discovered things about him like we did. And we also receive from Him in inward comfort,reminding us that he has put a new life in us-the life of His Spirit,the Holy Spirit who has come to live in us forever. And the life that he has put in us is more wonderful than any quick escape because it goes for eternity. And behind this whole experience is the fact that Jesus,Great and Gracious,stayed with his agenda. Not the ones that people set him to do,but the one that he knew was the will of God for him and the one that he knew was the best for us.
What is needed friends,for God’s favour to rest on you? The answer is,you need to know your need. If you’re not a Christian you need to call to Christ. If you’re a Christian you need to regularly call to Christ to sustain you. And the Saviour of the world will answer you.
Let’s pray. Our Heavenly Father we thank you this morning for the steadfast faithfulness of the Lord Jesus. We thank you that in the face of great temptation and great accusation and great pressure He continued on the path of faithfulness,even to the cross. We thank you that He died to give to us a life which will never end and we ask that you help us,as your people,to rejoice in what we have received and to trust you for all that we wait for. We thank you for this part of the scriptures we read this morning and pray that you would feed and strengthen us in order that we would live for you. May this be true of those who grieve,those we love who grieve. Please feed strength in your people,to keep trusting the Saviour who knows the agenda. We ask it in His name. Amen.